Dystopia Chapter 45

From the Story Arc: Dystopia

Previous Story in the Arc: Dystopia Chapter 44 by Krasnaya Zarya (Thursday, October 19, 2006)

Next Story in the Arc: Dystopia Chapter 46 by Krasnaya Zarya (Monday, October 23, 2006)

(posted Sunday, October 22, 2006)

Alex found the irony of his current situation mildly amusing: unlike his previous escape attempt, he was loaded with gadgets enabling him to proceed undetected and at his own pace without worry of discovery, yet for some reason or another, he was more cautious and deliberate with his actions. While last time he had gone barreling through hallways, blasting anything that moved, now he was barely at a jog, calmly passing the soldiers roaming the hallways. At any point in time there were a good half dozen men within line-of-sight, and at least one close enough to possibly hear his footsteps; his cloaking device only interfered with the electromagnetic spectrum, doing nothing to indicators like sound.

And if I was being chased by bats, that would mean something, came one of Alex’s trademark sarcastic replies. He had oft claimed that humor was his defense mechanism, and even Sofia would get upset with his apparent inability to take even the most dangerous of situations seriously (even though she did the same thing herself, at times).

A frown creased his face – or it would have, had it been visible – as he approached the elevator shaft that the zek Gleb had mentioned. The standard troupe was guarding it, with the glowing keypad behind them flashing Закрыто – literally “Closed”, but really meaning that it had been locked. There was no way he could bypass the lock without taking a keycard, since he could not hack the reader without his PDA, which meant either finding a different route or waiting for somebody else to come along and use the elevator.

He walked over to the wall, staying away from the soldiers and out of the path of anybody coming down the hall, and waited patiently.

Each second seemed like an eternity and Alex found himself conducting various mind games to pass the time. Calculating powers of two (“one-million-forty-eight-thousand-five-hundred-and-seventy-six… two-million-…”) was eventually replaced with powers of higher primes; this was an exercise he had done since a young boy to make time pass when bored, and Sofia had picked up the habit from him, later. It also made for a great concentration mantra for torture or migraine headaches.

He had twice solved the Eight Queens’ Problem and was in the middle of his second solution to the Knight’s Tour when he heard the grinding sound of the elevator approaching this floor. It came to a shuddering stop and the two sets of steel doors opened to reveal a squad of eight soldiers, the first two of which were aiming through the door, just in case he had been waiting there for them.

Technically he was, but they couldn’t tell that.

They group funneled out into the hallway in pairs, all of them wearing a strange set of goggles. Alex’s heart leapt up into his throat as he guessed the nature of the elaborate eyewear, but they seemed not to notice him. Probably infrared… he mused to himself as they passed by, happy that he dealt with more than just the tiny slice of the spectra that was visible light, and ducked into the elevator before it sealed itself shut.

And now he had to wait once more. Hopefully it wouldn’t be long before somebody needed to go to or leave the third sublevel…

The third sublevel was immediately familiar to Alex, having just escaped from it the day before. He believed he could probably even make it back to his own cell without getting lost, so long as he remembered to reverse the course he had used to escape it. Chances were that the alternate Sofia would be in the same holding area…

Alex began his half-walk-half-run down the corridors, surprised at the lack of guards compared to the floor he had been on previously. I guess they don’t think I made it off the fifth floor, he thought to himself, hoping that his usual good luck – which had vanished since his meeting with his alternate self – was finally returning. If so, getting her out will be easy.

His hopes were smashed as he neared his old cell block, nearly colliding with a squad of soldiers charging in from another hallway. Laser rifle raised and readied, the lead soldier raised his hand to a comm.-piece at his ear then called out for his men to follow him: “The guards report that the target has not reached the cell. Prepare the tripwires for the barricade.”

Alex darted in to follow them as they rounded the last corner, a small smile crossing his face as he saw the gaping hole and cracked walls that were stark evidence of his last escape attempt. Four soldiers were already standing at various points in the hallway, waiting for any sign of his approach, and welcomed the new squad of eight to their ranks. Great, an even dozen…

Much to his dismay, the soldiers were not standing guard over any one door in particular, so he had no way of knowing which cell held Sofia. Slowly and carefully, he tread down the hall, putting his ear to each door in turn, hoping to hear breathing or other signs of life. If only the soldiers had opened the eyeslots for him…

Playing the waiting game over and over was beginning to get on his nerves, constantly being so close to his objective yet unable to get to it. This time, instead of running mathematical and logical puzzles in his mind, he inspected the soldiers, watching as they set up their defenses in case he were to crazily decide to run out of the hallway, turn off his cloak, and run back in.

“How are we supposed to shoot something we can’t see, Sir?” One of the GSF soldiers shouted to another as his companions were setting up two sets of razor tripwire, followed by a laser-based detection grid. Amusingly enough, the lasers would be worthless against his invisibility field, making only the classic tactic dangerous.

“Very carefully, Private,” came the clipped response. The soldier, apparently the higher ranking of the group (they seemed to be following the regular Spestnaz tactic of dressing everybody in lower ranks), nodded to another next to him, who brought out a pair of odd devices – one a strange vacuum cleaner looking device, the other an small hovering ovoid. A flick of a switch on the latter quickly enveloped them all with an ever-expanding field of translucent green light that ended at the nearest intersection. Alex had seen enough force fields in his life to recognize it in a heartbeat.

The other device was activated once the protective bubble had been setup up, filling the air first with a loud rumbling sound and then with a heavy layer of mist. The thick white fluff rolled out along the ground, barely even reaching ten centimeters into the air, in all directions, only stopping when it reached the boundaries of the force field. Alex’s mind raced, trying to figure out what the purpose of the stuff was, and deathly afraid that there was now some kind of nerve agent curling around his feet.

“Watch the smoke, Comrades,” commanded the officer, “if it gets disturbed, fire.”

Ingenious! Alex couldn’t help grinning at the utility, the easy way of finding a target that can not be seen. He’d have to develop something along those lines, once he was home and had the free time. It would be handy in catching Knives of Artemis and Blood Widows.

But now the question was: How to find Sofia and get her out of here without alerting these troops? And hoping they don’t notice the two small gaps in the mist against the wall where his feet are.

The officer raised his hand to the comm. unit once more and listened for a few moments. “Affirmative, Command.” The officer’s voice sounded familiar to Alex, but he couldn’t figure if it was because he had heard it earlier in the base or because it was an alternate to somebody he had known back in Russia. “Switch to the Cryo Rifles, men, Command wants him alive and uninjured.” As the seven soldiers in his squad slung the large laser rifles over their shoulders and grabbed bulbous black-and-purple from their packs, he turned to the four guards: “Change in plans: Bring out the prisoner, we need to take her down to Agent Viy.”

The prison guards nodded and approached one of the entryways, going through the regular keycard security system and opening the door. After the wave of a gun and a brisk command to the room’s occupant, the guards stepped back to the middle of the hallway, followed by a worn and tired looking Sofia, head low in anticipation of whatever fate is in store for her. Those soldiers who weren’t watching her were busy looking out towards the intersections of the hallways for Alex’s presence.

None of them noticed the small swirls of mist that betrayed his gradual movement from one side of the hall to another and then over to the force field generator. The controls of the generator were simple and well-labeled, and it did not take Alex long to find the options he wanted to secure his and Sofia’s escape. He quickly changed a series of parameters and flipped the switch.

The green haze of the inclusion bubble collapsed back into the hovering sphere of the generator and quickly replaced by a new expanding sphere. As the green screen spread across the hallway, the once-still mist was pushed out with it, the only clue that the soldiers had to brace themselves for the repulsion field. Within moments, Alex and Sofia were alone in the section of hallway, with two sets of soldiers at each end, pinned to the far walls of the t-junctions.

“Sofia!” Alex whispered, having quickly crossed the distance between them, grabbed her hand and tugged. “This way, we don’t have much time!”

They took off down the hall, leaving the soldiers pinned by their own gadgetry.